CROSS RIVER, JANIFORM HELMET MASK, NIGERIA
20th c.; Probably Ekoi/Ejagham; Carved wood, stretched skin, paint, fiber, fabric; On stand: 17" x 9" x 14"; Provenance: Allan Stone Collection, New York
Sale Price: $1,375
Estimate: $800 - $1,200
Headdresses and masks from the southeastern forest region of Nigeria along the Cross River and in Cameroon are owned by intra-generational associations of men and, sometimes, women, who were hunters, warriors, or who otherwise shared a skill or accomplishment. The headdresses and masks, which bear the same name as the society that owns them, are worn during funerals and initiations with fabric robes. Some are startlingly naturalistic and may be portraits of known individuals; others are highly stylized. There are three overall types: helmet masks that cover the wearer's head entirely, masks that cover only the face, and headdresses attached to basketry caps worn on top of the head. 'The techniques used in the production of skin-covered masks are more complex than those of most other African mask sculpture, as the subtractive process of carving is followed by an additive one involving not only the attachment of the skin to the wooden surface, but also inserts of metal or cane to represent the eyes and teeth. To make a headdress, the artist carves the form from a single piece of wood and covers it with soft, untanned antelope skin that has been soaked in water for several days. He stretches, binds, and pegs the skin into place until it dries and stiffens. Eyes, scarifications, and hair are often carved separately and pegged into the finished piece. Before it is worn, the headdress is painted or colored, then adorned. The skin-covered masks are often employed in pairs, a rather ugly and often aggressive male character or the "Beast" interacting with a gracefully moving female character or "Beauty".
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 101Nicklin, Keith, "Nigerian Skin-Covered Masks," African Arts, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1974, pp 8-15